Kyiv, Ukraine – Crimea hangs off the southern coast of Ukraine like a diamond, blessed with a mild climate, sandy beaches, lush wheat fields and orchards stuffed with cherries and peaches.
It is also critical starting point Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Connected via a bridge with Russia and serving as home to Moscow’s Black Sea Fleet, Crimea provides a vital link in the Russian military’s supply chain that supports tens of thousands of soldiers who now occupy a swathe of southern Ukraine.
For President Vladimir Putin, it is sacred ground, after Catherine the Great declared it part of Russia in 1783, helping pave the way for her empire to become a naval power. The Soviet Governor Nikita S. Khrushchev to Ukraine in 1954. Because Ukraine was then a Soviet republic, not much has changed.
But when the Soviet Union collapsed almost four decades later, Russia lost a gem. Thus Mr. Putin claimed that he was correcting a historical mistake when he illegally annexed Crimea in 2014.
Mr. Putin promised at the time that he had no intention of further dividing Ukraine. However, eight years later, in February, tens of thousands of Russian soldiers stormed north out of the peninsula, ushering in the current war.
In recent days, military targets in Crimea have been attacked, and the peninsula again finds itself at the fulcrum of the great power struggle.
Early in the war, Russian forces rushing from Crimea captured parts of the Kherson and Zaporizhia regions that remained the key to Russia’s occupation of southern Ukraine.
Crimea in turn provides key logistical support for Russia to maintain its occupying army, including two major railways on which Russia relies to transport heavy military equipment. Crimean air bases were used to launch sorties over Ukrainian positions, and the peninsula provided a launching ground for Russian long-range missiles.
The peninsula is also home to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, which helps Russia maintain control over the sea, including a naval blockade that has crippled Ukraine’s economy.
place in the sun
Russia is cold – a fifth of the country is above the Arctic Circle. But it can be favorably moderate in the sun-soaked city of Yalta in Crimea.
“Russia needs her paradise,” Prince Grigory Potemkin, general and lover of Catherine the Great, wrote when he urged her to claim the land.
Crimea is where the tsars and heads of the Politburo kept holiday homes. Before the West sanctioned Russia for illegally annexing the peninsula, it was a place where the wealthy of Eastern Europe went to relax and party.
“Casinos are scattered all over the place amid the pine-lined alleys of the city,” A New York Times Travel article He announced Yalta in 2006, adding: “A lot – if not all – goes on in this thriving coastal city.”
Tourism fell sharply after 2014. But when Explosions sounded at an air base Last week near the western coast of Crimea, there were still visitors to nearby resorts taking photos and videos as black smoke obscured the sun.
Relations with Russia
“Crimea has always been an integral part of Russia in the hearts and minds of the people,” Putin declared in his 2014 speech marking the annexation. But his selective reading of history.
Over the centuries, the Greeks, Romans, Goths, Huns, Mongols and Tatars have claimed ownership of the land.
Perhaps no group in Crimea saw the war unfolding with such horror as the Tatars, the Muslim Turks who migrated from the plains of Eurasia in the thirteenth century.
they were Stalin brutally targeted him, who – in reference to the Kremlin’s justification for its current war – accused them of being Nazi collaborators and deported them en masse. Thousands died in the process.
In 1989, Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, allowed the Tatars to return to Crimea. Before the 2014 annexation, they made up about 12% of Crimea’s population, numbering about 260,000 there.
In 2017, Human Rights Watch accused Moscow Intensification of persecution of the Tatar minority In Crimea, “with the express goal of completely silencing dissent on the peninsula.”